Whether these ever get off the ground is another matter. SBSP concepts have a habit of launching with great fanfare but delivering very little. For example, in 2009 Californian regulators approved a 15-year contract with Solaren to supply 200 megawatts of SBSP to North American utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric from 2016. But in recent years the company has gone quiet about its plans. Solaren declined our request for an interview.
A similarly ambitious project, announced in 2009 by the Japan government, plans to send a 2km- (1.5miles-) wide, 1GW system into orbit. The project was launched in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which generated a swell of public support for SBSP in Japan. But, reality – and budgets – has kicked in. The 6-year only received $10m, a drop in the ocean for a SBSP concept.
“People were very supportive of SBSP after Fukushima. But unfortunately we also need support from the decision makers. Our budget is limited and will be decreased because of the depression of the Japanese economy and the terrible disaster in Fukushima and Tohoku,” says Naoki Shinohara, professor of engineering at the Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere, at Kyoto University and part of the project.
As a result, plans to test a small scale microwave link over 50m (160ft) in 2014 look like they will be delayed.
“I do believe in SBSP. And I do believe in this project,” adds Shinohara optimistically. “We hope to start generating power in space in 2030.”
This positive attitude is shared by Nasa veteran Mankins, who is now also chief technical officer of asteroid mining start-up Deep Space Industries.
A self-proclaimed “concurrent entrepreneur” who likes “to keep busy”, Mankins', is still “actively seeking” funding for SPS-Alpha for a benevolent partner to bankroll the project.
“I haven't found the visionary billionaire quite yet. But I'm still looking.”